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After bin Laden driver serves sentence, will US release him?

Salim Hamdan's sentence is less than the Bush administration wanted. Officials have suggested he can be held indefinitely.

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The 5-1/2-year sentence handed down last week at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for Osama bin Laden's former driver raises a difficult issue for the Bush administration.

Should government officials honor the verdict and relatively light sentence meted out by the six-member war crimes tribunal, or will the American military continue to hold Salim Hamdan of Yemen in open-ended military detention even after he has served his term?

Mr. Hamdan was sentenced Aug. 7 at the conclusion of the first trial of a terror suspect by special military commission at Guantánamo Bay. The sentence, far below the 30 years to life sought by the US government, means Hamdan could be eligible for release in five months after receiving credit for time already served.

The sentence is a setback for the Bush administration, which had hoped harsh punishment in the Hamdan case would send a stern message to would-be Al Qaeda sympathizers around the world and set the stage for the next round of war crimes prosecutions at Guantánamo. But to brush aside the sentence imposed by the first tribunal after a 10-day trial would suggest a lack of respect by the administration for its own special commission process and the rule of law, critics say.

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